A powerful committee in Canada's Parliament on Thursday decided--by a one-vote margin--to issue a nonbinding call to the Canadian government to drop any legal challenges to court rulings allowing same-sex marriages. The 9-8 vote, by the House of Commons Justice Committee, is intended to prod Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government to change the legal definition of marriage or to refrain from challenging court rulings that give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. On Tuesday an Ontario appeals court declared invalid Canada's legal definition of marriage as being limited to the union of a man and a woman, changing it in Ontario to a union between two people. It also ordered Toronto's city clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. That led to Canada's first legal same-sex marriage later in the day, with 21 more couples obtaining marriage licenses on Wednesday.
Despite the Parliament committee's vote, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said Thursday that he needs more time before deciding whether the government will appeal to Canada's supreme court. If Cauchon decides not to appeal, the appellate court's definition of marriage would become national law. "There's many options," Cauchon said. "We have a cabinet retreat next week, and I really want to take the time to talk to my colleagues."
Opinion polls indicate that a slight majority of Canadians favor making same-sex marriages legal. Some cabinet ministers have said it is time to change the legal definition of marriage to reflect modern social mores, but divisions have emerged among members of Parliament in the governing Liberal Party. Last month a British Columbia appeals court also ruled that the federal government should change the law. The federal government also has yet to decide on whether to appeal the British Columbia ruling. A Quebec court also has ruled against the federal ban on same-sex marriage. Quebec recognizes gay civil unions, which are separate from formal marriage.